Iranian Telegram social media channels today published videos that showed family members of those killed in Syria strongly protesting the presence of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his companions at a cemetery in Tehran. In two of the videos circulating in the social media, several Iranians are seen encircling Ahmadinejad and his team in Bhesht-e Zahra – Iran’s largest cemetery where many Syrian casualties are buried – and asking the former president to leave the area.  These individuals – who were apparently visiting the cemetery to pay tribute to their family members killed in Syria – criticized the former president for disobeying Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. “Because you do not have information, I am not saying anything to you,” Ahmadinejad responded to protestors. “They went [to Syria] so that you and others like you do not disturb the leader,” one protestor retorted.

Comment: In the last years of his presidency, Ahmadinejad had an uneasy relationship with Khamenei, and the former president registered as a candidate for Iran's May 19 elections this year despite being asked not to by the supreme leader. He further antagonized Khamenei and his followers by raising questions about the authority of the supreme leader on the campaign trail. The Guardian Council barred Ahmadinejad from participating in the election; and since then, hardliners and the country’s security and judicial authorities have also taken a tough approach toward the former president.  

It is not clear from the videos whether the anti-Ahmadinejad protest was an instantaneous reaction by ordinary Iranians or a pre-planned action by security and intelligence agents to further discredit the former president. Support among the Iranian people for the country’s military involvement in the Syrian has plummeted drastically in the past one year. During the presidential campaign, several Iranian social and political activists risked their lives by openly criticizing the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps’ (I.R.G.C.) military adventurism in Syria and other foreign conflicts at the expense of domestic priorities.

One rare video in late April, for example, showed a university student denouncing the Iranian regime’s acts of oppression at home as well as costly military engagements abroad. “Mr. Hassan Abbasi: Your theory is the theory of terror and horror and exporting arms and war. Your theory is supporting dictator and murderous Bashar al-Assad,” the student said to applause from the audience at the Azarbaijan Shahid Madani University. Abbasi – who is the head of an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) think tank called Center for Borderless Security Doctrinal Analysis – was a guest speaker at the university in Tabriz, the capital of East Azerbaijan Province. “Yes, your theory is playing with national and religious emotions of the people, and defending non-existent shrines in Homs and Idlib. What shrines are there?”

Gholamhossein Karbaschi, a reformist politician, drew the ire of hardliners in for his speech a month ago when he questioned the Islamic Republic’s military role in Syria. Pro-regime vigilante group forced the former mayor of Tehran to cancel a campaign rally in Semnan Province. A court in Iran’s Isfahan Province also announced that it was preparing a case to prosecute Karbaschi. The move came after Karbaschi criticized the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.) for sending combatants and weapons to Syria under the pretext of “defending shrines.”